Hong Kong is seeing growing internet censorship, and some American companies are using burner phones when visiting, says a top US diplomat

William of England
By William of England 7 Min Read

In his first interview since taking on the put up in 2022, US Consul General Gregory May cautioned that connectivity points and information safety issues had prompted some American companies to make use of burner phones and laptops when visiting the as soon as free-wheeling enclave.

“Hong Kong is starting to go down the slope of trying to take certain content off the internet and blocking certain websites,” he advised Bloomberg News on Thursday. “It is kind of a slippery slope once you start that internet censorship. Where does that end?”

The authorities’s marketing campaign to wipe Glory to Hong Kong, a track popularized throughout 2019 anti-government protests, from town’s internet has highlighted operational dangers for Western tech giants reminiscent of Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Meta Platforms Inc. The metropolis’s internet service suppliers have additionally blocked entry to a small variety of web sites, together with from the UK-based rights group Hong Kong Watch. Officials have defended such actions on nationwide safety grounds.

While Hong Kong’s internet stays largely free, preliminary curbs have sparked concern the tight controls of mainland China, the place many Western platforms are blocked and censors routinely scrub content material essential of the federal government, may spill over into Hong Kong.

The American diplomat’s criticism comes as Hong Kong tries to bolster its place as a global enterprise heart and appeal to vacationers to spice up its flagging economic system. The metropolis’s world repute took a hit after years of pandemic isolation drove an exodus of expertise and a sweeping crackdown on political freedoms turned it into a flashpoint in fraught relations between the world’s two superpowers.

“Releasing Jimmy Lai and these other people facing jail for political expression — releasing them would do more to improve Hong Kong’s image than all the financial summits and tourism promotion campaigns put together,” May stated. Pro-democracy activist Lai, 76, is going through life in jail below a nationwide safety regulation imposed by Beijing in 2020.

The Hong Kong authorities on Friday night time condemned May’s remarks as “scaremongering” and stated its efforts to safeguard nationwide safety will shield the rights of companies within the metropolis.

May, a profession diplomat who labored as a journalist earlier than serving in mainland Chinese cities Shenyang and Guangzhou, referred to as on the federal government to reassure companies it was dedicated to a free and open internet and business-friendly information controls.

“We definitely want to have a better relationship with Hong Kong. We just need Hong Kong to stop the slide,” May stated, referring to town’s restrictions on freedoms. “While we want the economic relation to continue to do well, frankly, our priority is more in the political space.”

The US has sanctioned town’s chief John Lee over President Xi Jinping’s clampdown on dissent, whereas Beijing has accused Washington of orchestrating mass protests in opposition to Communist Party affect that rocked the hub in 2019. Congress final 12 months handed a invoice that would shut down Hong Kong’s three financial and commerce places of work within the US if the monetary hub isn’t deemed considerably autonomous from Beijing.

Hours earlier than May’s interview, the US State Department raised concern over town’s proposals for a new home safety regulation, saying it adopts “broad and vague” definitions of state secrets and techniques and exterior interference that may very well be used to silence critics. The native measure provides to the China-drafted nationwide safety regulation and has stirred fears over a chilling impact on open dialogue of financial and coverage points.

“The last thing Hong Kong needs after the NSL are more, very broad, new crimes,” May stated. He declined to say what the US authorities would do if Hong Kong passes the regulation.

The metropolis’s authorities on Thursday called the State Department feedback “irresponsible” and an interference within the inner affairs of China. The Chinese international ministry on Friday stated the brand new regulation targets a “handful of criminals” harming nationwide safety and will shield Hong Kong residents’ rights and freedoms.

Authorities have vowed to press forward with the Article 23 laws mandated in its mini-constitution after ending a month-long session course of Wednesday. Lee’s administration stated it had received “majority support from the public” and would try to finalize a invoice as quickly as potential.

The US authorities “actively decided not to participate” in consultations, May stated, including it was as much as the Hong Kong folks to supply suggestions. While sanctions on Lee have curtailed his engagement with the chief, the US diplomat stated he’s used different channels to speak with metropolis officers.

Despite the challenges, May stated he believes the previous British colony retains vital enterprise benefits. Relations with the US may enhance, he stated, if officers honor the 1984 settlement on the handover of Hong Kong that promised town a excessive diploma of autonomy from Beijing for 50 years.

Still, he warned that American companies may face blowback at residence due to town’s clampdown on dissent, which has included putting bounties on the heads of abroad activists dwelling within the US.

“If you are operating in Hong Kong, US firms have to be mindful of their reputation on Capitol Hill,” he stated. “Some of them are rightly concerned about coming under the cross-hairs in the United States because Hong Kong is doing things like bounties that show a very negative side — and the US is reacting to that.”

— With help from Philip Glamann

Share This Article
Leave a comment